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A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

Chemnitz on Communion Frequency

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(From Examination of the Council of Trent II:329–334)

Now indeed Christ exercised diligent care in the institution lest someone should think that Communion is bound to a certain time.... For He says: "This do, as often as you eat and drink, in remembrance of Me." This phrase, omitted by the other evangelists, Paul repeats twice with special care. The words "as often as" are to teach us two things: first, that we should not think that the celebration or reception of the Lord's Supper is like the Passover of the Jews, bound to a certain fixed time; second, that we should not think that that of which Christ says, "Do this" should be done only once a year, as it was sufficient under the Law to eat it either oftener or at another time of the year than had been predetermined in the Law, whether for the clean or for the unclean. It is very significant that Paul says, by way of what may be done, "as often as you eat and drink." It is therefore wholly certain and clear from the institution of Christ that, as partaking of the Lord's Supper is not bound to a certain or fixed time of the year, so also it is not to be used only once a year. For Christ sets the words "as often as you drink," etc., over against the Jewish Passover, which was celebrated only once a year, and at a fixed time of the year.

Nevertheless, He did not want to permit believers to use Communion arbitrarily, so that it would make no difference whether they used it occasionally or not at all or when they pleased, as one does in matters indifferent. For He does not say: "When it pleases you," as in indifferent matters, but says: "As often as you do this." It is not the same as with Baptism; we are baptized only once, but it is not sufficient to use the Lord's Supper only once. For He says: "As often as," in order that we may eat of that bread and drink of that cup as often as we recognize and feel that that medicine and remedy which our Good Samaritan pours into our wounds is useful and necessary to us, so long only as we examine ourselves lest we receive it to judgment. For the rule about when and how often one should go to Communion must be taken:

I. From the teaching about the fruit and power of the Eucharist, namely, when and as often as we recognize that we have need of this power;
II. From the teaching about self-examination, lest we receive it unworthily.

On this basis people are to be taught, admonished, and exhorted to more diligent and frequent use of the Eucharist. For because Christ says: "As often as you do this," it is wholly His will that those who are His disciples should do this frequently. Therefore those are not true and faithful ministers of Christ who in any manner whatever lead or frighten people away from more frequent use and reception of the Eucharist....

....Let the reader here diligently observe these very harsh reproofs [of ancient Church Fathers against a legalistic minimalism in communing]. I have recounted them that I might show that the ancient solemn Communion at Easter is something far other than what is now observed among the papalists. For the former, by means of teaching, admonition, exhortation, and argument, urged more frequent use of Communion; the papalists, however, judge that no one is obligated by the commandment to more than one Communion a year....

....And now that these perverse opinions have already had a foothold in the church for a number of years with very sad detriment to souls, what remedy, I ask, do the Tridentine fathers bring forward? Do they attempt to restore more frequent use of Communion according to the command of Christ? Do they want people exhorted to it? Indeed, not even one word can be found in this whole session which would even lightly indicate this, but they simply say that all believers are held, by command, to communicate at least once a year. However, they add the phrase "at least," lest they seem to forbid people, although they should have been earnestly and strongly exhorted to more frequent use of Communion. I have therefore shown that this custom and persuasion of the papalist church agrees neither with Scripture nor with the examples of the ancient church. Surely it is an extraordinary piece of shamelessness that they do not mention more frequent Communion with so much as one word but only repeat their customary song about one Communion a year.